Revisiting The Nigerian Railway – 2

Revisiting The Nigerian Railway – 2


Femi Akintunde-Johnson

After about a three-minute wait at Papalanto, we arrived Wole Soyinka Station (Abeokuta) at 9.35am (a five-minute wait); Ladoke Akintola (Omi-Adio) at 10.20am (waited for only three minutes). Since Ibadan has two “stoppable” stations, it was quite gratifying to hear the announcer mention areas that are close to Omi-Adio so as to help people consider the best place to disembark, before we reach the “terminus”. Eventually, we arrived Obafemi Awolowo Station (Moniya) at 10.40am… Praise God.

While the sense of safety and time-keeping protocols are commendable, it is a little disconcerting that a train trip between Lagos and Ibadan would take close to three hours to navigate; especially considering the absence of the usual “go-slow” on road traffic, and the occasional snafu that can snarl up road transportation.

Well, the return journey was almost as uneventful and peaceful. From our base in Ibadan, we had planned that we would make allowance for traffic congestion, and the distance to the nearest station (Moniya). So we took off fairly early – around 5.35am. Our driver, an energetic middle-aged man coyly named ‘Alfa Mutairu Flour’ was an expert night-vision motorist who was able to get us to the station by 6.35am! The day was still fairly dark, as dawn was quite slow in waking up.

We waited in the unmarked taxi for the NRC staff to open shop. Fortunately, the “free days” ended a day earlier, so we did not envisage any hassles. And since Alfa was some kind of fixture at the station, he was a familiar face to both the staff and other transporters and self-employed operatives. Ours was one of only three vehicles around, and he advised us to wait back in the car for the ticketing office and “checkers” to start work. We could see passengers who needed to process their tickets, on site, building up a queue around the ticketing office. The station’s main doors remained shut.

About 6.55am, the officials opened the doors, and motioned holders of pre-registered online tickets to form a short queue. We joined the queue at 7.05, and found the officials battling with two hand-held devices (similar to that used by PoS traders). For some unknown reasons, the QR-code checking devices refused to work for a few minutes. Good grief!

Shortly, we got underway with checking. They asked for ID cards while confirming the authenticity of tickets. So we asked, what is the sense in demanding physical evaluation of a National Identification Number (NIN) at the station entrance when every intending passenger is compulsorily requested to input your NIN data in order to generate your individual profile, alongside any other passenger(s) you desire to make bookings for? If the system does not confirm the validity of your NIN, you cannot proceed to make payment. Why the extra stress?

The young man apologised about the matter thus: “It’s all this problems that is causing it…” He didn’t elaborate, and we didn’t bother to probe further. After entering, a young man approached us (some call them ‘hustlers’)…he offered to chaperone us, and our affable Alfa nodded his approval, to indicate he was good to go with. We thanked Alfa Flour profusely, as he showered prayers on us in his own way. Very nice gentleman.

We decided to use the offered help with our luggage, as we remembered what happened in Lagos a few days earlier, when we had to endure the arduous spectacle of lifting our big suitcase across the long multiple stairs as the Lagos escalators were not working…we didn’t want to trust the Ibadan escalators! Fortunately for us, the advantage of that decision was instant in showing up. The young man ushered us to the VIP section meant for holders of First Class tickets. That was strange, so we asked: “Are you sure we’re supposed to be here?” Nothing disparages your confidence than to be shushed away from a place of honour that you have implanted yourself uninvited. His gestures were read to be: “So, these Lagos people don’t know ‘what’s going on’?” We took our lush seats.

The VIP Lounge is a fairly large room adjacent to the main waiting hall. It is a plush arrangement with large settees – exactly 15 – and bounded by 14 coffee tables – in cute postmodern designs. There are two convenience areas (male and female) on either side of the air-conditioned room, with two toilet rooms each. Surprisingly, the one we entered had a toilet roll in its closet, and water ran smoothly in the two sinkholes! All quite neat and odourless. Whaoh!

Throughout our brief stay, about 30 minutes, we were the only occupants of the swanky environment with a good view of the rail lines. One is at a loss why the NRC staffers do not consider it important to inform First Class ticket holders that they may choose to hang out in the VIP Lounge! A great facility left unused and fallow, because of official neglect or nonchalance, would soon fall into ruins. Or do they have other shades of passengers in mind? Well, thank God for our emergency help mate.

At 7.36am, our train moved from the farthest tracks to us, to “re-park” closer to the exit point, so we would not have to loft our luggage up and down the mazy stairs. Thank God for little mercies. At exactly 7.47am (10 minutes to its advertised departure time of 7.57), we went onboard Coach C01. Obviously, this train (named IL2) appeared better equipped than the last one we came to Ibadan in. It has three TV screens attached to the roof of the coach, in equal distance apart. An American action movie was playing, with what looked like Mandarin as its main subtitles (we could barely see a smaller print in English). It begs the question: why do you not show Nigerian movies in a Nigerian train ferrying Nigerians across Nigerian cities – even if the train is ‘officially’ called “Fu Xing”!?

One major plus for us, though, is that the ticket numbering in the coach tallied with what was on the online platform – unlike the other day. As usual, we departed Moniya at exactly 8.00am…in an aggressively cold coach, heading to Lagos. Everything went smoothly – perhaps influenced by the day being a Monday – and we landed in the Agege Station at 10.07am. With the Ebute Metta terminal reachable within 20 minutes, our return train was not only better equipped, it was also a little faster – a massive 10 minutes, at the very least.

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